It made sense later-the early fear and avoidance of sex-the whole not being
able to urinate in public washrooms if someone stands next to me thing, but
for a long time, it was buried beneath an otherwise happy childhood.
I was in high school when the memory came back. Something shook loose.
Suddenly I recalled the day care center in Berwyn.
I recalled the director, a tubby, middle-aged man in a paisley jumpsuit. I
remembered the first day. Standing near the entrance with my mother in her
red velour jacket, he asked my name and then sang an old nursery rhyme:
Diddle Diddle Dumplin
Diddle Diddle Dumplin John
He went to bed with his
one shoe off
one shoe on
Diddle diddle my son John
I can’t piece it all together, but there are shards, points that stick out.
My mom got a job, which meant I was dropped off at the center, joining a
troop of other children, maybe 20 or 30 of us. I recall long, low cafeteria
tables and eating Jell-O.
I recall the blue exercise mats on the floor where we lay down for naps and
that time I closed my eyes and felt a tap on my foot. The director asked me
to follow him to the washroom.
It gets murky here, thankfully so. I recall a Polaroid camera. Maybe that’s
all I need to recall-something that never belongs in a washroom, especially
when an adult and a four-year-old child are by themselves.
I recall standing next to the urinal. The director was on the right. I
remember him asking me to hold out my hand. I recall crying and flashes of
light. Being told that if I said anything about this to anyone, I’d never
see my mother again.
Later on, as an adult thinking: the genius of that.
I told no one.
In the coming days, I suffered in silence on the mat as I heard other
children being taken to the washroom. The horrors that happened there. The
cold terror of powerlessness.
One assumes there are pictures, perhaps in a file marked “Vintage.” Grainy
photos of tear-stained children of the early 70s doing the unspeakable.
I think I was only “tapped” a few times.
The second or third time, I resisted. I crawled beneath the cafeteria table
and pissed myself out of fear.
My sister remembers that day, how I uncharacteristically had an accident
and she and my mom had to wait for my clothes to dry in the center’s dryer
before we could leave.
After that, as far as I remember, I was not tapped again.
And I never said anything to anyone, not for years.
My mom was the world.